The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A Free Press in Iraq?
Mick Hall • 1 January 2004

When the US Viceroy to Iraq Paul Bremmer announced to the assembled Baghdad press core that Saddam Hussien had been captured, a loud cheer went up from the prime of the world’s media, followed by a round of hearty and thunderous applause. Whilst I'm sure some of those journalists there must have felt uncomfortable with this, as far as I'm aware none thought to say so in their TV/Radio newscasts or in articles they wrote for the following day's newspapers, nor incidentally did they appear to challenge with any vigour Bremmer's account of the capture of Saddam, which in the main they quoted word for word...

That they did not do so, coupled with the cheers and applause on Bremmer’s announcement of Saddams capture, displays the depths to which the reporting of the Iraqi occupation and the resistance to it has sunk. The US/British occupation authorities and their Governments back home, almost without exception set the agenda as far as reporting from inside Iraq is concerned. It is not an exaggeration to say there are few instances of independent reporting coming out of Iraq. The honourable exceptions are Robert Fisk of the London Independent and one or two others. Whilst home based western journalists commentate on the situation within Iraq, they mainly do so from the perspective of how it affects political developments within the USA and UK; in the U.S., how continued resistance will affect the forthcoming Presidential campaign and Bush's chance of a second term as President and in the UK, how the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the lies Tony Blair told in the run up to war will affect his position as Prime Minister.

The manner in which combat situations between the Iraqi resistance and US forces are reported is shameful. Reporting the US armed forces press officers without question is the norm. Take this report from AP, which was syndicated around the world in countless newspapers:

"By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq- An American soldier died in a rebel ambush and two others were killed in bomb explosions Friday, one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein.
Two of the deaths occurred in Baqouba, a centre of guerrilla activity northeast of Baghdad in a Sunni Muslim area that served as a power base for Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator. U.S. forces, which have a base in the town, often conduct raids and arrest suspected insurgents. One of the U.S. soldiers killed Friday was in a U.S. convoy that came under attack, said Capt. Jefferson Wolfe of the Army's 4th Infantry Division. Another soldier was injured, but troops fired back, killing two attackers, he said.
In a separate incident in the same area, a soldier tried to defuse a homemade bomb, but it blew up and killed him, Wolfe said. Such bombs are a favoured weapon of rebels, who leave them on roadsides and detonate them as military convoys pass. The guerrillas used that tactic Friday in Balad, north of Baghdad, setting off a bomb that killed one soldier, the U.S. military said.
In the capital, a car exploded on the road to the airport, killing its two occupants. U.S. soldiers at the scene said they suspected the two men were bombers whose bomb exploded prematurely. Further north, three soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division were wounded in an ambush in Mosul when their convoy came under small arms fire, said Maj. Trey Cate, the division spokesman. The soldiers, who were searching the city's streets for bombs, returned fire but did not catch their attackers, Cate said. Witnesses claimed a taxi driver was killed in the firefight, but the spokesman could not confirm the report. On Thursday, Iraqi insurgents shelled an American base in Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers, the military said. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division said. A total of 11 U.S. soldiers have died from hostile action since Monday."

What can we make of such reporting, and more importantly what does it tell the reader or viewer about the current situation within Iraq? To be blunt, very little is the answer to the second question. Almost the only source of information is clearly, as I said above, the occupying US Forces. The report is totally one sided hardly worthy of an apprentice journalist court reporting for his local paper. The above is written as a US army press officer briefed the journalist. No attempt has been made to verify the facts or to check on Iraqi casualties. If we are to believe the reports it is as if the US soldiers come under attack, take incoming fire, hardly return fire, and pick up their dead and injured comrades from where they fell and retreat from the scene. Leaving behind at most a dead Iraqi cabbie. Now this would be bad enough if this was an odd report that slipped through a careless sub editor back home, but this type of tripe is broadcast and published within the world’s electronic and printed media daily.

Long ago seems the days when the US army allowed the embedding of journalists with their combat troops. This was possible during the invasion when large-scale battle groups were the order of the day, thus making any embedded reporters output controllable. Today the majority of soldering in the front line is done at platoon level, seek and destroy operations with bayonets fixed. The last thing the US Brass wants is for journalists to see US troops getting their hands dirty, dragging Iraqi women and children out of their beds at night, their homes trashed in search of Saddam's phantom army, whilst their menfolk are blindfolded, beaten and cuffed as a substitute for it. This war is turning out more like the Falls Road Curfew of the early 1970s than the Mekong Delta. It was whilst following British troops engaged in these type of urban night operations in the north of Ireland that reporters like Bob Fisk cut their teeth and with their reporting from the north of Ireland first exposed the US/UK public to the brutalities of the British Army's role there. Increasingly the hopelessness of fighting such a war became obvious to the general public in the US and UK; sadly it was decades before the political establishments within those countries realised this truth.

Such wars cannot be won without tarnishing the democratic ideals that the West's nations are based on. Thus to repeat the mistakes of the British in Ireland and the US in Vietnam cannot but diminish both countries and the freedoms their people enjoy. Whilst the situation in Iraq is not identical to the aforementioned conflicts, the only viable outcome is. That is a political settlement that brings justice to the Iraqi people and an end to the occupation. The sooner the better.

To date this absence of reporters working alongside combat troops on the ground and more importantly living amongst the Iraqi people whilst they go about their daily tasks has restricted what the general public know about the true situation within Iraq… Whilst this is denied there can be no understanding on the part of the media as to how the occupation affects the Iraqis in their daily lives, nor any real assessment of how widespread is the resistance to the US/UK occupation. If the reporters on the ground have so little understanding of what is going on within Iraq, how can we, their readers and viewers, form an informed opinion of what is taking place?

Journalists on the advice of the occupation authority live in enclosed areas, protected from 'the enemy' by the forces of occupation, the real enemy of freedom of information. Although the journalists seem blissfully unaware of it when they post from the Baghdad Sheraton Hotel, etc., they are living in today's equivalent of the protected villages the British first crowded the Kenyan peasants into during the Mau Mau rising against the British occupation of Kenya. This tactic by forces of occupation soon became common currency and was later copied by the US army in South Vietnam. All for the peasants' own good of cause, however as with the media today in Iraq, in reality it was designed to keep the peasants at a distance from those doing the actual resisting. It is time the media broke free from their minders from the occupation administration in Iraq and starting serving their communities in an open, honest, democratic way. For without a Free Press no society can be free and democratic…






 

 

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

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Index: Current Articles



8 January 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

A Man for All Seasons?
Eamon Sweeney

 

"A Means to Fight Back"
Marian Price

 

Tame Bulls in the China Shop
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Rising of the Moon: the language of power
Liam O Ruairc

 

Limerick Feud Denial

Óglaigh na hÉireann

 

Selective Memory
Michael Youlton

 

A Free Press in Iraq?
Mick Hall

 

Robert Zoellick and Wise Blood - The Hazel Motes Approach to International Trade
Toni Solo

 

Christmas Greetings 2003
Annie Higgins

 

The Close of the Year 2003 - The Belfast SWP
Davy Carlin

 

4 January 2004

 

Bam
Anthony McIntyre

 

New Years Statement 2004

Óglaigh na hÉireann

 

New Year Greetings
Jimmy Sands

 

In Memorium
Brian Mór

 

Is This The Real IRA?
Liam O Ruairc

 

Dec. 16th Dail Questions

Transcript

 

Provos/SDLP/Dublin Securing Partition
Liam O Comain

 

The Patriot Game
Kathleen O Halloran

 

Wiping Out the Opposition
Aine Fox

 

They Will Never Get Us All
Sean Matthews

 

The Letters Page has been updated.

 

 

 

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